Posted on 14th March, 2017 by Ryan Timpany
Some people are bound to be hesitant or skeptical when it comes to elearning games in the workplace. There’s an old, outdated stigma attached to games and “gaming culture”, one which sometimes gets associated with learning games too. Some of the false assumptions about elearning games include that games are time-wasters or that playing is the opposite of working.
But the truth is that play is an integral part of learning. Think about it – through play, we as children learnt how the world around us works, how to interact with our peers, and even basic physics, geography and mathematics. As a child, I was constantly fiddling with things to see what they could do and then, why. I’ve never stopped and, as such, am constantly making new “toys” with code, art and information. This leads to me sharing my discoveries in a professional capacity as a digital designer. But how does that fit into learning technology?
Through learning platforms, we can create safe environments for learners to ‘play’ in – they can take risks and make decisions in simulations designed to mimic practical, real-world scenarios that they would face while on the clock. That’s the approach we took for supply-chain logistics company Brambles. In order to give thousands of Brambles employees an understanding of basic shipping logistic operations, we put them in charge of the company’s truck network… in the context of a games-based learning environment.
As part of the Supply Chain Fundamentals training programme, Brambles wanted to develop an engaging online game, consolidating the key learning points from multiple elearning modules: sustainability, quality, supplier management, planning, logistics and operations.
Relatable, fun gameplay
Learners (now players) could take control of Brambles’ shipping logistics for a few days by way of the LEO Learning-designed game Ship It!. With a simplified representation of routes, vehicles and facilities, players could decide the most efficient, profitable and customer service-centric routes, by simply dragging the truck from shipping depot to customers and back in any order, then watching the scenarios dynamically unfold. In the game scenarios, customers would grow impatient if they felt neglected, goods would become contaminated if procedures became muddled and the boss would chide the characters if they ignored the ecological impact of their inefficiencies. The game allowed players to make choices for themselves, charting their own courses and reaping the rewards in terms of praise or criticism with a humorous twist. Engaging characters and global leaderboards also directed learners to engage with their colleagues outside of the game environment. By adjusting and tweaking (and hopefully having fun) the players were learning what it takes to keep the business productive – on a senior/management level.
A key to the success of the game was its ability to hold its own as a game, learning points aside. Learners could play the game with no prior knowledge of the world of logistics, work through the first level, which is aimed at teaching the gameplay concepts, and then find themselves wanting to repeatedly beat their previous score. The game allowed Brambles’ employees/players to learn about balancing priorities and compromise, even if they never ventured into the real world of shipping logistics.
From concept to creation
We invested a fair amount of time upfront in working out the core concepts, envisioning the game world and its inhabitants, then playing through the game as a series of Post-It notes stuck to a wall to test the gameplay. By the time we went into full production, we were so deeply immersed in the game world that every member of the team knew what they needed to do and could drive their tasks forward without constant guidance. Gameplay essentials like character dialogue pretty much wrote itself, because we knew the characters and how they’d react.
Part of the challenge we faced was to take subjects that might not ordinarily be associated with fun and games, and present them as such, while still respecting the content. This was largely achieved by building a visually pleasing world of entertaining characters. Without the game’s quirky characters like the erratic boss, flamboyant music festival organiser guy and craft ales hipster (see below), the game would have lacked charm and been less engaging.
While the characters were illustrated in 2D, the objects in the logistics map environment were modelled and rendered in 3D, and positioned on a semi-orthographic terrain. Using these methods, we could create an efficient graphics pipeline, that kept the balance between quality and ease of production. To create new levels, we could edit text to allow us to designate everything from new logistic values, to positions for graphics assets and customer behaviour. This meant there was a simple and effective means of updating and adding content to keep the course (and the learning) fresh. The game engine was designed to flexibly interpret the content, which meant not needing to create every level by hand. It also gave us the ability to easily switch out graphics, like the snowy holiday theme that was used over the Christmas period.
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Ryan Timpany is a Digital Designer at LEO Learning.